Brazil's TAM is preparing to launch services to Bogota and move some of its Buenos Aires Ezeiza flights to Buenos Aires' downtown Aeroparque airport.

TAM CEO Libano Barroso told ATI last week that Bogota will likely be the carrier's next international destination. Colombia and Ecuador are the only major South American countries currently not served by TAM as the Brazilian carrier already serves Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

"Noting the strong passenger demand in South America, we are analysing the Colombian market as a potential new destination," Barroso confirmed during a conference call with analysts yesterday to discuss TAM's first quarter results. "Our intention is to start a direct flight to Bogota in the second half of the year."

TAM will compete against Avianca and Gol on the Sao Paulo-Bogota route. According to schedules in Innovata, Avianca currently operates one daily flight on the route using Airbus A330s while Gol operates six weekly flights using Boeing 737-800s.

TAM vice president of operations Ruy Amparo tells ATI the carrier is also preparing to launch services to Buenos Aires Aeroparque, a downtown airport which previously only handled domestic and Uruguayan services. Early this year the Argentina government cleared Aeroparque for services to Brazil, Chile and Paraguay and approved a request from Aerolineas Argentinas to launch services from Aeroparque to these three countries.

Aerolineas in March moved its flights to Asuncion in Paraguay, Santiago in Chile and Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Florianopolis, Porto Alegre and Salvador in Brazil from Ezeiza to Aeroparque. LAN yesterday became the second carrier to take advantage of the new regulation for Aeorparque, launching three daily flights between Aeroparque and Santiago. LAN also has announced it has received authorisation from the Argentinean government to launch on 7 June two daily flights between Aeroparque and Sao Paulo.

Amparo tells ATI that TAM is still waiting for final authorisation from the Argentinean government to launch flights to Aeroparque. But he is confident the required approvals will be secured within the next few weeks. He says TAM plans to move its narrowbody Ezeiza flights to Aeroparque "as soon as possible" because Aerolineas currently enjoys a "competitive advantage" as the only carrier operating between Aeroparque and Brazil. With LAN poised to gain a similar competitive advantage over its Brazilian rivals when it launches Aeroparque-Sao Paulo service next month, both TAM and GOL are hoping to quickly be cleared to serve Aeroparque.

Amparo says TAM plans to keep its widebody Ezeiza flights, explaining it is important to continue to offer a long-haul premium product in the Buenos Aires market. He explains there is a "huge" amount of premium traffic that originates in Buenos Aires and connects at Sao Paulo Guarulhos to TAM's long-haul network.

While Amparo acknowledges that some of this traffic may prefer to instead fly from Aeroparque as it is closer to downtown Buenos Aires, TAM needs to continue to operate widebodies to Buenos Aires to continue offering the Argentinean market its business class product. Aeroparque can only handle narrowbody aircraft due to its short runway and small terminal.

According to Innovata, TAM currently operates three daily Airbus A330 widebody flights and three daily A320 narrowbody flights on the Sao Paulo Guarulhos-Buenos Aires Ezieza route. TAM also operates two daily A320 flights on the Rio de Janeiro Galeao-Ezeiza route and one daily A320 flight from Porto Alegre to Ezeiza.

Amparo points out that with 63 weekly flights to Buenos Aires, the Argentinean capital is by far the Brazilian carrier's largest and most important international destination.

In addition, TAM's Paraguayan subsidiary operates two daily A320 flights on the Asuncion-Ezeiza route which could potentially be transferred to Aeroparque. GOL also currently links Ezeiza with Asuncion as well as Santiago, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Florianopolis and Porto Alegre.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news